By Paul Tomkins.
At least three things normally happen to the existing playing staff when a new manager arrives. First, some older players will be phased – or shipped – out. Next, some fringe players will be phased – or parachuted – in. And finally, some hitherto untested youth players will be given a chance to prove themselves.
The testing out of young players seems peak in a manager’s first season. Maybe the new boss feels that he has time – or the need – to experiment, but it’s rare that a Liverpool manager throws as many youngsters in after that first 12 months. (Until recently, a shortage of genuine quality coming up through the ranks hadn’t helped.)
After that, they tend to stick with their own signings, although this needn’t be favouritism or an attempt to justify a transfer fee – managers obviously buy players they like, and even if the player isn’t performing, presumably they retain a belief in their ability. What some call preferential treatment or blind loyalty may just be belief in the player they scouted, and who possibly excels in training, transferring that to the Reds’ first team. But of course, it’s always easier to ditch someone else’s players.
Gérard Houllier instantly promoted Steven Gerrard and Stephen Wright from the youth set-up. Rafa Benítez played the hitherto ignored Stephen Warnock (by then 22), and gave debuts to Zak Whitbread and Darren Potter, and in the League Cup played a whole host of kids. Though he fielded a side with a high average age, Roy Hodgson tinkered with David Ngog, then 21, and Martin Kelly, 20, and gave a debut to Benítez’s penultimate signing, Jonjo Shelvey. And Kenny Dalglish blooded Jon Flanagan, plus gave Jack Robinson his first start.
But later in a manager’s tenure, the pressure for instant results is greater. Dalglish’s treatement of Raheem Sterling seemed more cautious than it had been with teenagers a year earlier.
On top of that, managers will have different views on the senior players they inherit. Houllier wasn’t keen on Paul Ince and David James, Benítez quickly sold Stephane Henchoz and Danny Murphy, Hodgson seemed uninterested in Alberto Aquilani and wanted to offload Daniel Agger, and Kenny Dalglish didn’t persevere with Joe Cole or Raul Meireles.
Of course, another aspect of a new manager’s transfer work is immediately going back for players he knows personally: Houllier bought Jean-Michel Ferri, whom he knew from the French national set-up; Benítez bought Luis Garcia, whom he’d managed at Tenerife; and Roy Hodgson went into the market for former charges Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen. (Of course, Kenny Dalglish hadn’t managed for 11 years, so he didn’t have an existing working relationship with players; but at Newcastle he brought in John Barnes and Ian Rush.)
Brendan Rodgers instantly moved for Gylfi Sigurdsson, with whom he’d worked on two occasions (Reading and on-loan at Swansea), before securing Fabio Borini, a young player he’d coached at Chelsea and Swansea (on loan).
Providing that the players are good enough – More Garcia than Ferri or Konchesky – then it’s a sensible approach; managers usually don’t know exactly what they’re getting when they buy someone, and by the time they get to work with them, it can be too late.
So, with players already having left, who will come in from the cold, or up from the youth team, this summer? And who will be jettisoned like blue-iced turds from an Airbus?
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